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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 6/4/15

With 195 violations for emissions in four years, should things remain 'business as usual' for a smoky dragon?

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In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an enforcement action against Heritage Thermal Services Inc., by issuing a Finding for Clean Air Act violations at the company's hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, according to a U.S. EPA Official Statement.

A group of concerned citizens held a meeting Tuesday, June 2, at a youth center that overlooks the incinerator, with the smoke-belching monster almost appearing as a backyard accoutrement. About 30 people got together to raise concerns over the hazardous waste incinerator and talked about the importance of the U.S. EPA Official Statement, and whether or not Heritage Thermal Services will be able to continue to operate with recklessness and impunity.

The U.S. EPA alleges that on numerous occasions - numbering 195 incidents, exactly - between November 2010 and December 2014, the facility exceeded the allowable total hydrocarbon emission rate for the facility. And Heritage Thermal Services failed to meet operation limits and requirements - such as temperature and pressure - that are specified by federal regulations and are stipulated in the operating permit for Heritage Thermal Services to abide by and adhere to, the U.S. EPA's official statement says.

This serial polluter of the air in the Upper Ohio Valley was in violation of the law before it even began operations in 1993, critics somplain.
This serial polluter of the air in the Upper Ohio Valley was in violation of the law before it even began operations in 1993, critics somplain.
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"These alleged violations may have caused excess emissions of hazardous air pollutants, heavy metals and soot," the U.S. EPA's statement reads. According to some reports, these emissions can cause cause cancer, miscarriages and early death.

Just what kind of emissions are they? How dangerous are they? An 87-year-old who's fought the incinerator even before it went online in 1993 said hundreds of chemicals even the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't know much about are being emitted. "I don't think the EPA can tell you what's coming out of that stack." said Alonzo Spencer, who is the president of a group based in southern Columbiana County that is fighting to close down the facility.

"It's a mixture of everything. It's very dangerous," Spencer said. "Hundreds of different chemicals are being emitted. What's being burned is hazardous waste, after all...who knows? And that's very scary."

Although it's an unknown mixture of smoke which continually changes its substance from burn-to-burn that comes out of the stack, Heritage Thermal Services' homepage lists the types of materials it accepts, and these include: reactive materials, DEA-controlled substances, and household-hazardous wastes brought in by trucks, tanker trucks, and railroad cars as bulk solids and bulk liquids, along with containers of all sizes.

"Although incineration of RCRA-hazardous and nonhazardous wastes is our core business, we also provide services for mixed infectious and hazardous wastes, lab packs, industrial maintenance, on-site assistance, transportation, hazardous and nonhazardous landfills and wastewater treatment. We prepare materials for fuels-blending and mass burns. And can assist you with empty drums, universal wastes, transfers to third-party facilities and e-scrap," Heritage Thermal Services' homepage states.

Meanwhile, Spencer said, "Nobody knows what's really happening with the health of the people who are inhaling this stuff. Already, we're seeing some terrible things occurring, like the fact that three men in East Liverpool have been diagnosed recently with breast cancer. Breast cancer in men is almost unheard of, and in this small city (which according to the 2013 federal census has a population of 11,010) we have three cases alone."

This writer attended the meeting, and the overall mood of the small gathering was that of deep concern, with many exhibiting angst and anger about the continued operation of Heritage Thermal Services' smoky stack.

Most of the people who attended have called the little city on the Ohio River their home for a long time. Many are lifelong residents of this former pottery making capital and don't like this menace belching out the smoky remnants of hazardous waste into the air they breath.

"We are petitioning the Attorney General, Mike DeWine, to look into these violations," said Spencer, president of Save Our County, a group fighting for the facility to be closed. "When it first began operations (as Waste Technologies Industries Inc.), the attorney general then (Democrat Lee Fisher) said WTI was not permitted correctly and was directly in violation of three areas of Ohio law on two occasions," Spencer said.

"That proves something was wrong then. Why it was even allowed to operate when it failed three areas of the law and was discovered as illegal?" he asked the audience.

Spencer was one of 30 protesters arrested in the early 90's before the facility began operations. At the time, plans to open WTI was the focus of national controversy. Activist and actor Martin Sheen was arrested too, when the group jumped the fence of the facility. All were charged with trespassing, but after a jury trial, all 30 were found not guilty through a Necessity Defense, because of the fact that the hazardous waste incinerator posed a greater harm than their trespassing acts.

No representative of the Ohio EPA, the U.S. EPA, nor Heritage Thermal Services attended June 2's gathering. These entities have taken on an insouciant attitude concerning the welfare of the citizenry living in the Upper Ohio Valley and could care less, if their actions are any indication of their attitudes. - This is the consensus of several of the speakers who were on hand Tuesday and addressed the small, but interested, gathering.

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Samuel Vargo worked as a full-time reporter and editor for more than 20 years at a number of daily newspapers and business journals. He was also an adjunct English professor at colleges and universities in Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi (more...)

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